If a New York City police officer gives a suspected false statement during a Civilian Complaint Review Board inquiry, the investigator has few options. At most, investigators can refer the matter to Police Department officials for possible review.
Now, voters can decide whether to empower the board to conduct its own inquiries into police officers’ statements.
The issue is among five ballot questions that New York City voters will decide on Tuesday, but there’s a twist: Question No. 2, which covers the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has five parts. The question covers four other changes to the board’s makeup and operations; a yes-or-no vote would apply to all five issues.
The same all-or-nothing approach applies to four other suggested City Charter revisions; in all, the five ballot questions comprise 19 proposals.
Read the fine print
On the first page of the ballot are candidates for local offices. The only citywide race is for public advocate, where the Democratic incumbent, Jumaane D. Williams of Brooklyn, faces Councilman Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island.
There is a district attorney’s race in Queens, in which Melinda Katz, a Democrat, is heavily favored over Joe Murray, a Republican. Depending on where you live, there may be candidates running for various judgeships.
The five ballot questions are on the second page. Because each one comprises several proposed changes to the City Charter, Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, described the process as “voting in bulk.”
This, she said, might lead voters to ask themselves questions like, “If I slightly disagree with Part 3 of Question 3, do I vote no? Or do I suck it up and vote yes?”
Professor Greer said it took her 45 minutes to read the five ballot questions, and the voter guide from the New York City Campaign Finance Board. She wondered, “Who is going to spend more than five minutes in a voting booth?”
You can see a sample ballot by typing your address into the New York City Board of Elections website; clicking “Ballot Information” on the top right; and, on the next page, clicking “view sample ballot.”
You can also read each question, as well as comments in support of and opposition to each one, on the Campaign Finance Board’s website.
Each question is more than 100 words long. For English speakers, the questions total more than 950 words. The questions are also printed in Spanish, an addition of 1,200 words.
To get all those words — more than 2,100 of them — on a single ballot page, they were printed in tiny, seven-point type, according to a Board of Elections spokeswoman.
Question 1: Elections
The main proposal here would create ranked-choice voting for primary and special elections, starting in 2021.
Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters would be asked to rank up to five candidates in order of preference.
Under this system, if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, the lowest-performing candidate is knocked out. If your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to your next highest-ranked candidate. This process continues until one candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote.
Supporters say these changes empower voters and encourage candidates to compete for broader swaths of support. Critics said the new system might confuse voters.
The other main changes being proposed are extending the length of time before a special election can be held, and requiring that City Council districts be redrawn before candidates start their efforts to get on the ballot.
Question 2: Civilian Complaint Review Board
If passed, this would allow the review board to investigate and potentially prosecute officers suspected of lying during a review board investigation.
Currently, the board recommends those cases to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau for further action.
In both instances, disciplinary matters are ultimately decided by the police commissioner; that would not change under this proposal.
Police reform advocates support this move. “There seems to be evidence that some officers are not telling the truth,” Maya Wiley, a former chairwoman for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said in an interview. And to law enforcement, she added, “that is detrimental.”
Even some staunch supporters of law enforcement favor it. Mr. Borelli, the public advocate candidate, who has attended numerous Blue Lives Matter events, told Gotham Gazette, “If that was a stand-alone bill I’d probably support that.”
People debating this question have also focused on two other changes covered in the ballot issue. One would give the review board’s executive director the power to authorize subpoenas. Currently, the board issues subpoenas through a vote of its board members, usually at monthly meetings.
The other would require the police commissioner to send a written note to the review board whenever he or she deviates from disciplinary recommendations made by the board or departmental judges.
Supporters of the changes say they would reshape the Police Department’s culture and improve investigations. Opponents including the Police Benevolent Association, the labor union representing officers, say they would have “a chilling effect on law enforcement that will make the city less safe.”
Mr. Borelli said he decided to vote against the measure, in part, because it was tied to other proposals he opposed. “I believe an expansion of C.C.R.B. powers is neither warranted nor needed,” he wrote in a text message to The Times.
Question 3: Ethics and government
If approved, it will extend the ban applied to officials lobbying their former agency colleagues to two years.
Currently, there is a one-year ban on this type of activity when people leave public service.
It would also restrict campaign activities for members of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, who act like referees on local ethics matters. The board members would, for example, be barred from participating in local campaigns.
Supporters say the changes would bolster the public’s confidence in the board. Others question whether they would unfairly restrict the First Amendment rights of some city employees.
Question 4: City budget
This proposal would allow the city to employ a “rainy day” fund. State approval would still be required to create the fund.
The city is currently barred from creating this type of fund, though mayoral administrations have found creative ways to squeeze money from one year’s budget for use in another year.
Critics, like the Libertarian Party, say a fund would discourage tax cuts or simply operate as a slush fund for lawmakers. Supporters, including the fiscally conservative Citizens Budget Commission, said the move would provide the city with financial stability.
The other main proposal here would set minimum funding levels for the offices of public advocate and borough presidents.
Question 5: Land use
Every inch of New York City is controlled by one zoning rule or another. To deviate from them, a person or business needs permission from the City Council. It also helps to get the local community board’s backing.
If this proposal is approved, developers seeking that kind of approval would have a summary of their plans sent to the local community board earlier in the review process.
The proposal would also extend the length of time during the summer when community boards can respond to those plans.
Numerous good government groups favor this, saying community boards play an important role in urban planning. And the extra time in June and July is needed, they argue, because the boards are run by residents who often do not meet in the summer.
But the proposal has met resistance. For example, Tom Angotti, a veteran urban planner, said it failed to include funding for professionals to assist community boards in their analysis.
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